(2 of 2)
"There have been no clinical studies that validate their cleansing properties," Dr. Leonard Bielory, an allergy specialist at Rutgers University, told me. "Drinking only juice for three days or more doesn't do much but put the individual in an uncomfortable position." Uncomfortable tends to mean irritability, headaches and frequent trips to the bathroom. Dr. Bennett Roth, chief of gastroenterology at UCLA Medical Center, is crystal clear on one thing about juice cleansing: "The concept has no basis in scientific support."
Despite, or perhaps because of, the medical community's overwhelming lack of enthusiasm, juice fasts have many defenders, including Gwyneth Paltrow (whose lifestyle site, Goop.com co-branded a 21-day cleanse in January), Sarah Jessica Parker (a BluePrint fan) and Salma Hayek (who co-founded a line of juices called Cooler Cleanse). The pro-juice community even has a big-name physician on its side. Dr. Mehmet Oz recommends going on juice fasts for a couple of days but, he warns, "not longer." A few months ago, he even posted a recipe for a 48-hour cleanse on his TV show's website. The idea is to give your digestive tract a break and focus your mind on healthier eating.
"I do it when I begin to feel gross," says Naomi Pomeroy, Food & Wine's best new chef of 2009, whose Portland, Ore., restaurant Beast specializes in rich, meat-centric food. "It heightens my sense of smell and taste, and I have much more energy." I've heard the same things from many other juice fanatics. And so, despite a bone-deep skepticism toward the process, I decided to go on a three-day juice fast myself, and I made my wife Danit--a petite person who eats so healthily, she won't consume chicken skin--go through it with me.
BluePrint sent us two sample cleanses, and on Day One I was unhappy. The juices varied from awful to delicious and gave me all the energy I needed, but in my addled state, everything smelled like pizza. Danit, meanwhile, was positively buoyant. By Day Three, I felt more energetic, though it may have just been wrath. I didn't experience the total euphoria, or "starvation high," that anorexics talk about, because unlike the super-low-cal Master Cleanse, my juices were giving me more than 1,000 nutritious calories a day, about the same as some nonliquid diets. I lost 6 lb. (2.7 kg) during those three days, but it was a bitter victory because Danit didn't even bother weighing herself when it was over. To her, that wasn't the point.
I realized the next morning (over coffee and an egg-and-cheese sandwich) that I had learned one of the central truths about juice cleansing. I had treated the cleanse like a burden, something to be endured; my wife had approached it as a challenge, like Bikram yoga or a half-marathon, two other things I would never want to do. Self-denial and ritual purification are in short supply in our secular age. The juices look and taste clean, and they make the people who drink them feel clean too. From their sleek bottles to the radiant complexions of the stars who endorse them, they seem to promise release from the prison of our clogged, earthbound and less-than-ideal bodies. As with so many things, a lot of it hinges on the packaging. "We don't make any claims," BluePrint's Sakoutis says. "It's just juice."
TO READ JOSH OZERSKY'S WEEKLY FOOD COLUMN, GO TO time.com/ozersky